By Alex Mooney
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The last time President Barack Obama held a full-blown news conference at the White House, his first campaign rally was two months away and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum looked to have the upper hand over Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential primaries.
To be sure, in some ways the political landscape has changed dramatically since Obama fielded questions from the White House press corps on March 6: He is now assured of four more years in the Oval Office and can claim fresh leverage in his dealings with Republicans over reaching a budget deal.
But in many ways, the political environment closely mirrors what it looked like eight months ago: Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives, the GOP leadership maintains it is opposed to any measure that will raise tax rates on the nation’s top earners and the president’s approval rating remains stubbornly stuck around a less-than impressive 50%.
Moreover, with election-year politics having largely rendered Congress unproductive over the last year, many of the same issues remain at the forefront as they did the last time the president held a formal news conference — namely the ballooning national debt, the tepid economic recovery, unrest in the Middle East and the specter of a nuclear Iran.
Indeed, when the president stands in front of the cameras on Wednesday afternoon, he might face many of the questions that reporters asked in March.
Of course, it’s a safe bet that Obama will also be peppered on the disclosures surrounding both former CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen.
But the impending news conference might shine anew the spotlight on another issue that has been percolating among the White House press corps: Why it’s been so long since Obama held court with the 50 or so reporters who follow him day in and day out.
To be fair, Obama has taken the national media’s questions in other forums since his March news conference, most recently in late August when he made an unannounced stop at the regular White House briefing in the midst of the heated campaign and a week before the start of the Republican National Convention.
But he only took four questions that day and the entire session lasted less than 30 minutes.
Moreover, the president ran for re-election while largely ignoring White House reporters in favor of local outlets and entertainment shows. Pressed on why he wasn’t taking more questions from national media outlets, Obama campaign aides said the president could reach more battleground voters via local news than through network television programs or national publications.
Those interviews were largely filled with predictable softball questions, though it should be noted that one Colorado news anchor drew wide praise for aggressively questioning the president over conflicting White House accounts in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
The president also showed a preference for more light-hearted forms of media during the course of the campaign, granting interviews with comedians Jon Stewart and Jay Leno, daytime talk show “The View,” and MTV’s Sway Calloway.
Again, Obama aides stressed the president was likely to reach more undecided voters through these programs than traditional news shows. But critics, including some who are part of the very press corps Obama appeared to be ignoring, questioned whether the president was attempting to dodge more hard-edged questions.
Indeed, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked last week if the president’s more or less avoidance of the White House press corps over the last eight months showed a “certain amount of disdain” for them.
“Absolutely not,” Carney replied. “Absolutely not. The president was out there campaigning for re-election and giving interviews daily to reporters … from news organizations across the country, from regional newspapers and television stations, and answered a lot of tough questions.”
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